Everybody worries but I have met people who build great cathedrals of worry in their heads. They ponder, not only every angle of the issue that faces them but every angle of every angle.
A review of research on worry (reported by Christian Jarrett in the Research Digest of the British Psychological Society) concluded that excessive worriers make a fundamental error.
The error is that they think they need to worry until they have solved their problem completely. But though some planning is often necessary, problems usually get solved through action in the real world and not in the prison of the worrying mind, so this is a self-defeating behaviour. How often have you wondered, “What was I worrying about?” when a problem solved itself or when the outcome was completely different to what you thought it might be – nobody else cared that the evening wasn’t perfect, for instance?
Knowing when to stop
People with low levels of anxiety also worry but with one big difference: when they get fed up worrying they stop, and get on with the next thing. They recognise that worrying is getting them nowhere and they drop it.
As Jarrett points out, excessive worry lowers our mood and a low mood leads to more worry as we try to think our way out of the low mood.
In his book Stop Thinking Start Living, Richard Carlson described one form of excessive worrying as a habit of “troubleshooting” life. He added: “Troubleshooting is a way of life for many people. It means being on the look out for what’s wrong, finding flaws, seeking out imperfections, pointing out potential pitfalls, finding fault, generating concerns, being a sceptic, and remembering past mistakes.”
What to do?
Can you get out of this vicious cycle or are you condemned to sitting there worrying your life away?
None of this stops you from sitting with pen and paper and working out solutions or from seeking advice. But self-perpetuating, endless worry has little (maybe nothing) to recommend it.
Let’s face it, if it worked, wouldn’t you have solved all your problems by now?
Image by Sasha Freemind
Some of the material in this article appeared in my Irish Times column.
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